March 7 Panel Discussion Highlighted Urgent Need to Pass the MA Parentage Act

A March 7 virtual panel discussion hosted by the Berry Institute of Politics at Salem State University, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and the Massachusetts Parentage Act Coalition discussed the gaps in current Massachusetts law that harm children and families. The event highlighted the urgent need for the legislature to pass the Massachusetts Parentage Act (MPA) (S. 1133 / H. 1714), a bill to ensure important legal protections for all children, including children with LGBTQ+ parents. Access a complete video recording of the discussion on Screencast or at the bottom of this page. The panelists leading the discussion were Polly Crozier, GLAD senior staff attorney; state Sen. Julian Cyr, an openly LGBTQ+ legislator and a co-sponsor of the MPA; Darmany, a youth advocate for the bill whose family lacks full legal recognition and protection under current law; and Emily McGranachan, the adult daughter of lesbian parents and director of corporate and foundation relations at Family Equality. Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project and one of two inaugural Berry Institute of Politics Fellows, moderated the discussion. Each speaker illuminated the issues confronting families in Massachusetts due to the Commonwealth’s outdated parentage laws and how passage of the MPA would address such problems. Based on the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) 2017, a best-practice framework for ensuring the protection of the legal relationship between parents and children, the MPA would update state law to clarify who can be a parent and how to establish parentage. The MPA would add important protections for children born through assisted reproduction and surrogacy. The bill would also enable LGBTQ+ parents to establish parentage the same way other families do, including through a voluntary acknowledgement of parentage, and provide a clear standard for courts to resolve competing claims of parentage. “Parentage is the core legal relationship between a parent and a child. It is the legal bond from which every single right and responsibility flows: child support, medical decision making, access to public benefits. If you’re not a legal parent, you really don’t have any security and your child is very vulnerable,” Crozier told the audience. “So it is an incredibly important core, fundamental legal bond. It’s particularly important for children because if you don’t have a legal relationship with your parent, you can be separated from that parent.” “And as we know, disruption to what we call that secure attachment—that attachment a child develops with a parent or person– is really fundamental to their well-being across their lifetime,” Crozier added. “You disrupt that attachment at a young age and it has negative implications for children across their whole life.” McGranachan discussed the legal vulnerability she experienced being born to lesbian moms via assited reproduction before they could marry, which left McGranachan with just one legally recognized parent. When they appeared in court to request a second-parent adoption to establish a legal relationship between McGranachan and her non-biological mother, the family felt nervous and vulnerable knowing that the judge could refuse to grant the adoption. “Frankly, no one should have to worry like that. No parent should have to go before a judge with their infant to get parentage. No child who is understanding that they’re going before a judge…should be uncertain or scared and feel that vulnerability when they know who their family is, they know who their parents are. And that recognition should be standardized and that law and protection should be there,” McGranachan said. With more and more young people identifying as LGBTQ—17 percent of Massachusetts high school students now do, according to a recent statewide youth survey—Sen. Cyr said that state law must catch up with the reality that more and more families are being created in diverse ways, and that the MPA is the “common sense” bill to do that. “We really need to make sure that there are protections for families no matter what they look like. “What legislators need to hear is that these are everyday problems that more and more people are facing and that we as stewards of government, as lawmakers, need to make sure the law is reflective of not only what it should be from a rights and equity perspective, but also from a lived experience perspective.” Darmany has been raised since birth by a close friend of his birth mother who has been established by a court as a de facto parent. While well-established in Massachusetts, de facto status currently confers limited legal protections and is not full legal parentage with all the responsibilities that entails. The MPA would follow the lead of other New England states and the guidance of the UPA to ensure that de facto parents who meet a rigorous standard are equal, legal parents. Passage of the MPA would make the only family Darmany has ever known more secure. “In other New England states, de facto parents and their children have full legal protections. But in Massachusetts, we don’t have those protections and we shouldn’t have to move in order to have those projections and basically feel safe and be recognized,” said Darmany. “The reason why this bill is so important to de facto parents who meet the high standard of parentage is for the simple fact…they are a parent, despite it not being biological,” he added. The MPA is currently pending before the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary, following a public hearing last November. The committee has until April 15 to act on the bill, which has bipartisan support. Learn more about the bill and the issues it will address on the Massachusetts Parentage Act Coalition website.